Gini Wijnaldum is the only key senior player at Liverpool whose future is not secured for the long term, but a new deal should be considered a no-brainer.
Should Liverpool end their 30-year wait for a league title the highlights reel will be packed full of iconic moments.
Late winners, vital saves and VAR controversy will all feature in an end-of-season montage sure to conjure waterworks whilst signifying the start of a summer-long party.
One moment destined to remain on the cutting-room floor, however, best typifies the spirit of this side.
It came in the 89th minute of the 1-0 victory at Tottenham. Having dominated Spurs for 70 minutes and wasted a hatful of chances in doing so, the Reds were suddenly on the ropes.
Clearly spent following a winter schedule to rival Santa’s, they were very much on their last legs and clinging to three valuable points; albeit deserved ones.
Out of nowhere Gini Wijnaldum—seemingly the most exhausted of our laden pack—nipped in to win a loose ball from Tottenham full-back Japhet Tanganga. Rather than launch it high and long into the north London sky, the Dutchman proceeded to embark on an improbable run.
Summoning extra reserves from goodness knows where, he skipped by nearest challenger Erik Lamela to gain valuable possession and yards.
Perhaps sensing a lack of options or maybe for pure amusement, he then turned to beat his man again, before holding off the attentions of Toby Alderweireld and finding a team-mate.
While those 10 short seconds may have seemed unremarkable, they encapsulated the desire of this team, its quality and resolve in equal measure.
Suddenly a mini storm had been weathered. Liverpool were back in possession and pretty much saw out stoppage time on their terms.
Labelling someone shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or an unsung hero is a stretch. Yet in a team of superstars Wijnaldum is often overlooked. There is reasoning, of course, not least the nature of his work.
Gini is understated, selfless and at times inconspicuous.
Yet he also happens to be the most tactically aware of all his team-mates, a vital cog you truly appreciate in its absence. Pundits may not notice him from week-to-week but be in no doubt, his manager does.
All of which makes the uncertainty over a new contract puzzling to say the least.
It’s important to state club and player are clearly talking. There is no suggestion of any great standoff but rather differing views on the length of any new deal.
When quizzed on the likelihood of him renewing, Wijnaldum himself conceded “it depends.” Doubtless a negotiating tactic, his coyness has still got fans talking.
If duration is indeed the issue, what exactly might be preventing Liverpool from offering another four or five years? The answer may lie in sheer workload.
In a famously demanding system Wijnaldum has expended more energy than most. Since joining the club only Roberto Firmino (179) has featured more times (171). Of the last 38 league games, the former Newcastle man has figured in 37.
Simply put, he is as close to an ever-present as it comes in modern-day football.
The trust Klopp places in him is further evidenced in break-glass situations. It’s easy to forget we’re talking about a player entrusted to line up at centre-back (Brighton, 2017) and up front (Barcelona, 2019) in times of injury crises. If fit, he plays.
Bob Paisley was an exponent of the ‘let their legs go on someone else’s watch’ theory, perhaps having served witness to Bill Shankly remaining too loyal to the first of his two great Liverpool sides.
Whist harsh it could be argued such ruthlessness is what then kept Liverpool atop their perch for the best part of two decades. And perhaps the sports science department at Melwood are similarly mindful of miles on the clock.
At 29, are there fears of a sudden drop-off?
While it’s conceivable such conversations have taken place it’s hard to imagine them jeopardising a crucial piece of business. Klopp will surely see to that.
Indeed the Liverpool of 2020 is very different to that of the ’70s and ’80s. It’s also very different from 2014, when similar discussions were being had about Steven Gerrard.
Given his penchant for team spirit and the positive atmosphere he has engendered on and off the pitch, it’s fair to assume Klopp would have intervened in this instance and ensured Gerrard rightly finished his career at Liverpool.
No, not as a starter!
And he’ll surely be intent on tying down one of his key lieutenants—as he has James Milner, for whom mileage clearly wasn’t a factor.
Both Milner and Wijnaldum have earned recognition from the club. The latter is not credited enough for the role he’s played in turning Liverpool from entertainers to winners.
In England, the sheer intensity and volume of games meant such tactics could not withstand an entire season.
Wijnaldum, though more than capable of quickening the play, brings an air of calm and moreover control to proceedings. He can put his foot on the ball when required and uses tremendous upper-body strength to win physical battles at key times.
He’s also the reason Andy Robertson can bomb down the left flank with such abandon…
Make no mistake, his tactical intelligence and in-game management are up there with the very best in Europe. They’re traits no side can afford to lose.
While the average age of this squad suggests a gradual rebuild will be necessary in the not-too-distant future, surrounding incoming youth with experience will be key come such a time.
Wijnaldum’s role may change in two or three years but he’ll undoubtedly still have one to play.
If Liverpool get over the line this season legendary status will be secured for a real fan favourite. Here’s hoping a new contract is as well.